Family Unit

(from FAFSA instructions, “Who is considered a parent?”)

The term “parent” is not restricted to biological parents. There are instances (such as when a grandparent legally adopts the applicant) in which a person other than a biological parent is treated as a parent.

  • If the parents are both living and married to each other, the family unit includes both of them.
  • If the parents are living together and have not been formally married, since NYS does not consider common-law marriage, use the rules for divorced parents.
  • A foster parent, legal guardian or a grandparent or other relative is not treated as a parent for purposes of determining financial need unless that person has legally adopted the applicant. An adoptive parent is treated in the same manner as a biological parent.
  • If one, but not both, of the parents are deceased the surviving parent’s income and assets are included. Do not use any financial information for the deceased parent. If the surviving parent dies, update the dependency status to independent. If the surviving parent is remarried report income and assets for both that parent and the person he or she married (your stepparent).
  • If the parents are divorced, report income and assets for the parent lived with more during the 12 months preceding the date financial need is determined. If the individual lived with both equally, provide financial information for the parent who provided more financial support during the 12 months, or during the most recent year that you actually received support from a parent. If this parent has remarried then include income and asset for that parent and the person he or she married (your stepparent).
  • If the parents are legally separated, the same rules that apply for a divorced couple are used to determine which parent’s information must be reported. A couple doesn’t have to be legally separated in order to be considered separated for determining financial need. The couple may consider themselves informally separated when one of the partners has permanently left the household. If the partners live together, they can’t be considered informally separated.
  • A stepparent is treated in the same manner as a biological parent if the stepparent is married, as of the date of the financial need determination, to the biological parent whose information will be included, or if the stepparent has legally adopted the individual. There are no exceptions. Prenuptial agreements do not exempt the stepparent from providing required financial information.
    Note: The stepparent’s income information for the entire year prior to application must be reported even if the parent and stepparent were not married for the whole year.
  • An individual is not considered independent of their parents just because the parent(s) refuse to help the consumer with the financial need review process.
  • If a consumer has no contact with their parents and don’t know where they live, or the consumer has left home due to an abusive situation, the district office may consider waiving consideration of parental income.